How do you know what you know?

January 2, 2013
By

faith-and-reasonAbout a year ago, I wrote a blog post which I called “4 Things I’m Glad I Don’t Know for Sure.”  I reflected on the wonder of faith, and the miracle of the unknown as it adds nuance and “magic” to our existence.

Today I received an email from a distant friend espousing a very strong position on a controversial issue that is seen by some as a source of great joy, and by others as a source of tremendous turmoil.  In this case, I worried about the fact that faith was perhaps being manipulated to make an inexorable point about something that we humans don’t actually “know for sure.”  The carnal longing for control is an arrogance of the flesh.  And with control comes liability—a liability that too many ignore as they preach beyond the boundaries of their cognitive capacities.

So I ask: How do you know what you know?

There’s a word for this notion.  It is epistemology.  What is yours?

For most people, it is nuanced. And it is always limited.

This is what I love about faith.  I embrace the fact that my epistemology is limited.  When coupled with faith, it becomes like a beautiful snowfall that fills in the gaps of the terrain and makes fresh the places scarred by human excavation—meaning my ways of knowing surpass the everydayness of the ordinary.

Faith is an unwritten song.

It troubles me to witness its use as a tool for hate, intolerance and unkindness.

So what is my epistemology?  How do I know what I know?

  • I am a big believer in history.  Mistakes made in the past can be great forecasters of the future—both when they are repeated, and when they are used as stepping stones to new mistakes.  Different mistakes.  New learnings.
  • I am also a big believer in somatic knowledge—in discernment—a sort of sixth sense that allows awareness to emerge from places otherwise unsensed.  And unknown.

But when it comes to making a hard-and-fast, uncompromising, robust argument, I must know “for sure.”  In such cases, my epistemology cannot be nuanced, cannot be based merely on what someone has told me or taught me (especially if they cannot make clear their own epistemology), and it cannot be entirely rooted in one or two vague Scriptures.  If I have nothing more on which to base my argument, I remain silent.

And I allow the unwritten song of faith to emerge from my spirit with power and grace.

(Click here to read “4 Things I’m Glad I Don’t Know for Sure.”)

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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